With Brazil, for the first time in their history (since 1957), ATypI welcomed their attendees to an annual gathering in South America. Their last conferences took place in Reykjavík/Island (2011), Hong Kong (2012), Amsterdam/Holland (2013), and Barcelona/Spain (2014) (2014). ATypI 2015 was held in São Paulo from 14 to 17 October 2015. It took place in the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in a beautiful São Paulo neighbourhood called Higienópolis, in Consolação district in the city centre. The area is known for its elegant apartment buildings from the years 1960 and ’70 in the style of São Paulo Modern Architecture – lucky us to get to know this and view it on the Sunday city walk. But for now, back to business.
Some background information: ATypI, Association Typographique Internationale, describes itself as “the global forum and focal point for the type community and business”. ATypI members are located in over 40 nations, with almost 20 country delegations. Administration is US-based; the (current) ATypI President, José Scaglione, lives in Argentina and the Czech Republic (TypeTogether). The official language of ATypI is English. Some of our readers might know the Prix Charles Peignot for Excellence in Type Design, which ATypI awards every four to five years (to a type designer under age 35). The prize is named after ATypI founder Charles Peignot, who was the organization’s first president (1957–1973).
Desafios /// Challenges
In Brazil people speak Portuguese, not Spanish like in the rest of Latin American.
São Paulo is a city of some 12 million inhabitants. You cannot (which occurred to me to be quite arrogant anyways) take English for granted when visiting a shop, or a pharmacy, or a conference. ATypI work with local interpreters, who did a great job in São Paulo.
Also this year’s ATypI conference logo is just super-wow-sofisticado. Congratulations Crystian Cruz (follow @crystiancruz on Twitter), who managed to combine the language aspect using a typical Brazilian “a” sound like in São Paulo, the up-side-down-Southern-hemisphere fact about the place, plus a landmark architectural feature: the wave-like or should we say tilde-like formed Edifício Copan (Copan Building) by famous Oscar Niemeyer, built 1952–1966 (with interruptions) and still one of the largest buildings in Brazil, with the largest floor area of any residential building in the world. The conference was impressive before it even had started.
And “Challenges”, the theme of ATypI 2015, could not have been chosen any better. It bridges the fact that Latin America, despite vivid type and graphic design communities in its many countries, is not really present on our Western-centered mindsets and markets. “Challenges“ also pokes into the painful wound of designers and foundries all over the world facing big type and media companies getting even bigger, and themselves having to market their typefaces, protect their creative work and make a living out of it – with or without the support of global players.Wherever we live and work, this is hell of a challenge in contemporary type design (in design, media, communication in general). Sugarcoating apart.
Vamos falar de negócios /// Let’s talk about business
ATypI attendees were invited not to bemoan the developments, but to exchange strategies for how to best address them. How can we strive toward innovation?
Embedded in the damp tropical heat and the above mentioned impressive beauty of inner São Paulo, with a super charismatic local team, open-minded attendees and speakers, spiced by good food and caipirinhas (no, not during day time), we indulged into regional type and graphic design from educational, technological, historical and practical perspectives.
This last aspect was of main concern: At the end of day one, and as the first single-stroke feature (after following research and educational talks in Room A or “Tech Day” in Room B), Indra Kupferschmid invited everyone to participate in an open panel discussion entitled “Challenges of an international type market”. Which says it all and made the pace. It’s business, baby! Not necessarily were there perfect solutions in sight, but encouraging attitudes for type designers and small type foundries to cope with the situation.
Jean-Baptiste Levée of Production Type (note the pragmatic name) made a strong contribution. As a type designer (even award-winning, in his case) you have to consider business and marketing knowledge as an essential part of your work, he said. And he was absolutely convinced and convincing about that. What I liked very much is that this came not as some sobered finding, but with a whole-hearted dedication to working in the field of type.
Indies contra majors novamente? /// Indies against majors again?
Jan Middendorp (follow @JanMiddendorp on Twitter) of MyFonts Germany made a clear and convincing point (via comments in the discussions and also with his talk about The Art, Culture and Business of Type), setting himself apart from the “majors” with a special curating quality plus additional customer services: for MyFonts, Jan is working on a series of instructive booklets on all creative and practical aspects of type design. And one of those booklets is about, guess what, the business.
Jan also mentioned that bestseller lists will not necessarily help designers to find the right typeface for their purpose (like pop music hit lists never did help you find your favourite songs). Still MyFounds publishes bestseller font lists. But they are of no real use (apart from displaying distribution success of the respective foundry). They do not have the intended effect on selling figures and they are of no validity for chosing and purchasing fonts, nor for designing fonts “on purpose”. Bestseller font lists are rather absurd actually. Yet, we love bestsellers. Do we?
O amor por listas de mais vendidos /// The love for bestseller lists
If you were not sure about this and want to find out more, continue reading. If you want to keep your illusions about the logics of successful typefaces, do not read any further. Because one presentation at ATypI literally proved the absurdness of the markets and how illogical buyers seem to act. Or is it that taste simply is not measureable? So how to design a bestseller typeface? Three type designers and teachers from Prague tried it, and they tried real hard, together with their students.
Tomáš Brousil (founder of Suitcase Type Foundry) and Radek Sidun (well-known for his research about diacritics), who with their team run Briefcase type foundry, together with Karel Haloun of Umprum Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague, did profound research about bestselling typefaces and extracted parameters about their aesthetic features, and also about marketing elements (such like bonuses and free add-ons). They used these characteristics as a guideline to their students. The students should design typefaces in order to sell best, according to what you find in foundries bestseller lists.
Only, it did not work.
The students followed the path strictly and were thoroughly guided and supported by the three Czech enfants terribles, who displayed a certain shyness on stage, at the same time courageously pairing black humor with conceptual strength.They presented the sobering outcome of their Bestsellers experiment and a book about it. Tomáš, Radek and Karel thoroughly analized the features – both design features and marketing features of typefaces – of several foundries and type distributors bestsellers, only to find out in the end: the best selling typefaces of their students were not necessarily those who shared those features. So what can be recorded? Are there some “save” bestseller factors? Naming played a certain role. But mostly, success in selling type seems to be a question of luck, coincidences and chance. And special prizing.
The Bestsellers project gained instant attention and spread like wildfire. Hopefully we will be lucky and have it presented on a big platform in Europe again. Maybe meet Tomáš, Radek and Karel at TYPO Berlin 2016?
Back to Indra’s business panel: there were more strong statements and the discussion will surely be continued at ATypI, and not only there.
In coffee and lunch breaks and in every moment you were drawn into talking about those matters, and of course there were business meetings of all kind at any possible places the FAAP, including more or less secret gatherings, despite the heat and the intense workshops and besides the packed programme. Everybody seemed to be “on air” all the time.
Yves Peters followed up on what he and others call “the Barcelona incident”, referring to the discussions at last year’s ATypI conference. It was mostly about big software companies (like yes, Adobe) not fulfilling type designers and other users needs.
But, good news, some things seem to change, and “Adobe was so great to stretch out to the community”, said Yves. Together with Nadine Chahine, Tobias Frere-Jones, John Hudson, Nick Sherman, and Kris Sowersby, Yves Peters was invited to set up a consultancy board for Adobe (to share thoughts on an improved OpenType UI for example).
In addition, Miguel Sousa gave a survey on Adobe’s history, font releases and re-releases, and answers the question of what’s next: “Adobe keeps to be a front runner in type design and font technology”; there will be more font tech and type tools, because they want to stay in the business (sic) and “because type is our passion”.
So, everything fine with the global players so far? Nope. There were quite a few people in the ATypI audience openly naming the fact of “the Monotype cloud hanging over everybody”. This cannot be ignored. It was admitted, mentioned, and accused in different ways throughout the conference. Asking people in coffee breaks about the changes in type business, some did not want to be quoted.
A nuvem grande e gorda /// The big fat cloud
Others, like notorious Radek Sidun again, were not shy to say: “do you know the feeling that someone is standing behind you and looking at you? It’s kind of scary, some way.” There were a lot of such remarks: “You can feel that somebody is watching you …”, “… a lot of things have changed and it is kind of an unsecure feeling …“ – „… like somebody is out there. I can’t really describe it, it’s more of a feeling”.
Whether these moods are justified or not: how to deal with them? How to encounter them? Do the majors care? Talking in person to some of their members, they do; some even seem to be personally touched and worried. But in the results, and in the long run? Correspondent to this, a new awareness of independency seems to arise, like when Stephen Coles in his talk points out that he concentrates on the independent foundries, politely acknowledging that “the big companies made big and important impact“.
Apart from experiencing this kind of reflectiveness and a well-attended type crit under palm trees, held by Veronika Burian, Gerry Leonidas, Jan Middendorp, and Sumner Stone, ATypI visitors could indulge into local and regional topics af all kinds to grasp South American spirits.
If you want to know more about Amazonian type and some real “kick-ass” talks please go ahead and read the second part of my report:
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The photographers at ATypI São Paulo 2015, Luke Garcia and Andre Hawk, did a great job. Please find the amazing results – tons of pictures! – in the complete ATypI photo albums, and some more impressions here. Thank you very much for kindly providing us with the pictures and permission to publish, dear Henrique Nardi!